Kennewick, Wash. — A bill introduced last week into Congress by Sen. Patty Murray would give veterans and their spouses access to in vitro fertilization services through the Department of Veterans Affairs for the first time.
In vitro fertilization is excluded from fertility services offered through the VA, but with a number of veterans facing injuries that can affect their ability to conceive, Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement for the Congressional Record that this service is part and parcel of caring for veterans when they come home.
"The nature of the current conflict and increasing use of improvised explosive devices leaves service members, both male and female, at increased risk for blast injuries including spinal cord injury and trauma to the reproductive and urinary tracts," Murray said. "Army data shows that between 2003 and 2011, more than 600 women and men experienced these life-changing battle injuries while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. As they return from the battlefield ... the VA system must be equipped to help injured veterans step back into their lives as parents, spouses and citizens."
The bill, known as the "Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012," proposes to expand reproductive treatment and care options for veterans and extends fertility treatments to spouses.
The bill also tackles other issues affecting women veterans by creating a pilot program providing child care to veterans seeking readjustment counseling and requires the VA to improve outreach to women veterans so women can better access VA health care and benefits.
And the bill requires the VA to facilitate more research on the long-term health care needs of veterans, including issues such as gender-specific infections and severe reproductive and urinary tract trauma in the battlefield.
Joan Leid, women veterans program manager for the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, said the medical center does see some women experiencing fertility issues, especially as a growing number of younger women are serving.
But the child care issue is one of the biggest barriers for the more than 900 female veterans seeking counseling or medical care at the Walla Walla medical center and its regional clinics, Leid told the Herald.
"It seems to be a women's issue getting child care to come to an appointment," she said.
Outreach also is important, as many women don't access VA benefits and services because they don't perceive themselves as veterans.
"Some women think they have to have served in combat or served overseas, or have a service-related disability," Leid said.
But any woman who has served in the military may be eligible for benefits, she said.
"We encourage all veterans to apply to see if they are eligible," Leid said.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, of which Murray is the chairwoman.